Monday, April 2, 2018

Don't Bet With Mother Nature - Ouachita Challenge 2018

If we would have believed the dim forecast near Hot Springs, AR, or let the defecting commenters on Facebook sway our minds, we would have skipped the 2018 Ouachita Challenge. 

Instead, we put our faith in Mother Nature and our fellow travel companion, Rafal the Polish Punisher, that maybe for once, he'd be right. All but one of us doubled down and hit the road for our first mountain bike race of the season and for some of us, the first tires to dirt this year. 

Unfortunately for Ryan (or should I say his competitors) he decided not to race. His deep chest cold wasn't going away and racing in potentially cold and wet weather was not the remedy he was looking for, so he shifted into support mode and needless to say (but I'm saying it anyway) it was the most chill I've seen him traveling to a race.

This was the maiden voyage for the #mtblimo with a group of people. We arranged the seats to accommodate two of the tallest racers we know and had room to spare. I think we made the right call buying the Ford Transit.

We went part-way to Bentonville Friday night, picking up Boo-Noah in KC, who had driven down from Des Moines. We arrived late in Walmart-town but the hotel was great and made for a good night's sleep. 

Towel Monkey

The morning was good times with waffles & Rafals.

We arrived at the perfect time to Big Brushy trail head to pre-ride. Most of the tour crowd had already been through so the trail was open for riding. We saw the usual suspects from KC. Ryan tried riding because you had to when it's 70 degrees out but it only confirmed his lungs didn't give a shit if it was springtime and the trails were dry. So while he rode back to the van, the rest of us put in some time dialing in the legs and what I thought was a working fork. More on that later.

After the pre-ride we hit up registration. Nobody was around so we got right in and out. Then it was time to head to the cabin, but knowing eating options were scarce I mentioned we should probably get something before going to the cabin. We went to a place I've been wanting to try b/c they claim they have the best burgers this side of Heaven, despite being a sketchy looking structure, half former gas station, half house. So we all put in or order for something fried with a side of fried and it was delicious. I know some were skeptical and I agree that OSHA probably hasn't ever been there, but like I say, Put Some South in My Mouth!


After lunch, we headed down the winding road to our cabin. It was nice. There isn't an abundance of places to stay near the racecourse but we scored with a cabin that was only 25 minutes away with enough room and beds for all of us, plus a nice yard and pond. It was close to the main street but other than that, it met all of our expectations for cabin life, complete with a friendly dog from next door who enjoyed resting on the deck with us. 

Race Day.

The weather was going to hold until later in the day so the goal was to finish before the rain. The start temps were in the 40s and it was only going to get into the 50s so I went with just arm warmers and wool layer under my summer kit. I took a camelbak since it wasn't going to be hot to ensure I'd drink regularly.

We got to the start finish around 6:40 after a delay trying to find Eyberg's computer which he did find but then didn't have his HR strap so he borrowed Ryan's. After a good warm up and got in line about 1/3 way from the front.

The start of this race is neutral for quite a while so one can continue warming up until the single track. The river crossing wasn't as deep this year (in fact none of the crossings were as deep as last year). It was still rushing over the road but at least we could see the road this time.

As we entered the single track the race stacked up per usual on a rock garden at the top of the first power climb. Two women were there, one on SS and the other geared so I made sure to keep them in site (the category is women open so all women are contenders). The SS rider was tough but didn't descend very smooth. She and the other woman were yo-yoing together until the geared rider had to dismount. Then it was me and the SS rider yo-yo-ing. We popped out of the single track at Big Brushy not really knowing our place. I was able to shove down some food before making my way to Blowout Mountain. I was feeling pretty good. Ryan was at the road crossing cheering me on saying we were 4th & 5th place. The SS rider was with me and asked to go ahead, which I let her do knowing it was going to get steep and rough quickly and I'd see her again. Which I did. I dismounted as soon as I could pedal efficiently and took to hike a biking. My trusty rubber-soled shoes were perfect for this situation. No slipping on carbon shoes! 

I eventually passed the SS rider and reeled in the 3rd place rider. We didn't exchange places but I pretty much glued myself to her hoping I'd wear her down, hoping I'd force her to go harder than she was wanting to or make a mistake. We came out of the trees together and into Simms where Ryan was waiting with a fuel-up and I took a much needed nature break. Whew! It's amazing how much better it feels when you're a liter lighter! Unfortunately, the seal was blown on my fork and from the look of it, it was staying down in it's travel. 

The good news I was through the most technical part of the course but I still had about 3 hours of rough riding ahead without much suspension in the front. Oh well, run what ya brung. That break dropped me back from the 3rd place rider and the SS rider caught me as I left Simms but with the open road section and more gears than she, I was able to drop her and catch the wheel of a lone dude. Once the road went up, I took a turn at the front and didn't look back. In the trees for a quick out and back, I found and passed 3rd place and upon the next gravel road connector, 2nd place was soon in my wake. 

Womble - an IMBA epic trail that starts out as flow and then just when you finish yelling "Wheee" for the 5th time, it turns into a never ending grind. Though not really technical, the fact that it just winds and winds in and out of the classic folds that make up the Ozark Mountains, your mind starts looking for the end sooner than it should. The good thing is my stomach was doing great and my legs were in their zone too. The bad news, I was on the front of a train that had the woman from the beginning of the race and she was riding well. Nobody asked to pass so I just held my pace. I didn't go faster than I wanted and nobody complained. I did mess up one switch back but I was back on the bike and no foul was called. Finally, we came out on the road. There were 3 guys and us two ladies. One of the guys asked if we wanted to work together on the gravel so I got in behind since I pulled everyone through Womble. When it was the other woman's turn, she attacked. It wasn't a huge attack but I had to answer so I kept her insight knowing there was still another short single track segment coming. We had to slow down to get our bracelets too so I was able to catch back on to her wheel. Once out of the trees though she used every tooth in her 52 or whatever to blow my doors off on the straights until she was out of sight for good. Well crap. The rain started too. Ryan had been at every station and had pulled around me on the road yelling my gap time. I still finished strong with the best time I've recorded there ever at 5:49. I gave 2nd place a high five and congrats on a strong battle. First place was another 20 minutes ahead of my time so wasn't even close. Not sure I'll ever win this event but I'll keep trying.

The guys all had great races as well. Eyberg tried tackling a tree but other than that, it was a great race for everyone - even Ryan, who true to his nature, had tunes blasting from the mtblimo at the last gravel climb and was giving everyone a push over the top. The day finished out with petting a baby goat, taking a hot shower and then devouring mounds of ribs in Hot Springs. That's doing things the Southern way if ever, right?! 

Back at the cabin, we rested a bit and watched horrible horror movies on TV. Then we forced ourselves outside and around the fire pit to properly end the evening looking at stars above while enjoying drinks below. It's as if Mother Nature had bet we would.